Cause for pause and reflection

West Milford. More than 40 teachers and staff members were listed on the West Milford School Board’s Aug. 26 agenda for approval to take leaves of absence for a variety of reasons.

27 Aug 2020 | 12:40

    In West Milford, significant staffing deficits were brought to light, as staff requests for leave of absence also grew as more area schools changed their opening plans to remote learning.

    More than 40 teachers and staff members were listed on the Aug. 26 agenda alone, for approval to take leave of absence for the purposes of retirement, medical, maternity/child rearing or lack of childcare due to Coronavirus closures (as eligible under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act - FFCRA or Act) using personal time, sick time, and/or time afforded under FMLA.

    FMLA is typically unpaid time off that affords protections from job loss, with advance notice of time needed, but the FFCRA addition to FMLA includes emergency partial payments for necessary leave up to 12 weeks, and does not require advance notice.

    Shortages of staff, substitute teachers

    Some of the other issues discussed at the August 25 BOE meeting were:

    • Shortage of staff, particularly in the HS due to teacher FMLA requests.

    • Staff shortage compounded by shortage of certified substitute teachers available since many area schools are in the same predicament.

    • “Curtains:” Department of Transportation (DOT) approved plastic guards for buses/drivers that were ordered in June have not arrived yet.

    Cleaning

    • HVAC Systems in all buildings were cleaned and repaired to function at optimal capacity, but systems are not capable of using certain particulate level filters (16) as recently recommended (but not required) by the CDC. The HVAC filter capacity in WMTPS buildings use the average #6 and #8 filters.

    • Questions arose regarding cleaning procedures for shared surfaces- desks, cafeteria seating, doorknobs, railings, etc., particularly for Middle and High School areas due to switching classes. Potentially up to eight students per day, per desk, per classroom, with approximately four minutes between class periods for all to be sanitized prior to next class beginning, custodians/staff will need to be assigned to clean all desks/surfaces to be used in cafeterias (with approximately four minutes between periods), bus drivers will need to sanitize seating and surfaces - preferably between routes but at completion of routes once per day minimum

    Emotional trauma

    • Questions regarding compliance of students wearing masks and social distancing (all ages, especially younger).

    • “Emotional trauma” considerations for students and community at large when/if staff, family members, or classmates become ill and/or pass away due to contracting COVID-19 at school

    • Schools are ready for use with protocols to minimize transmission to the greatest extent possible, but it cannot be eliminated completely, and cannot be guaranteed as safe for all.

    • Questioning remaining state restrictions (indoor dining, gyms, indoor gatherings, certain work environments, etc.) but putting children in those situations in school (cafeterias, classrooms, hallways, restrooms, etc.).

    • Excessive heat in early September with 90-degree days and masks and being unable to use air conditioning or fans in classrooms.

    The decision

    There was extensive discussion among School Board Trustees. The majority voted for the entire district to begin the school year with “remote”/”distance” learning for four weeks beginning on Sept. 3, and then implement the district’s hybrid A/B alternating day in-person/remote learning model as it was previously planned, on Oct 1.

    - Patricia Keller